By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA _ In many situations, the reach of women's basketball stretches far beyond the court strategies, the summer WNBA competition, and the winter race for the NCAA championships.
The Guru attended four separate events to date this month and all had roots in basketball but note was taken of how much the sport and life beyond the hardwood interact.
On June 9 the Guru attended the eighth annual Dawn Staley Foundation Black Tie Sneaker Gala, which will be the focus of this post in a bit. Then it was on to Knoxville, Tenn., for the 11th annual Women's Basketball Hall of Fame induction celebration. While on the scene, the Guru dropped in on Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's camp, which at the time had a bunch of young Iraqi women who were thrilled to get a chance to come overseas and participate under the Hall of Famer and her staff.
You can find coverage of the event elsewhere but the Guru mentions the Tennessee camp in that here was another illustration how people-to-people programs put a much friendler face on a situation that dominates the headlines in terms of the fighting in the Mideast.
Because of that conflict, State Department officials said the last names of the participants were not given for security reasons. But being unable to know who these young students were by full identity was not important. What was key was how eager they were to mix with Americans and learn to how to improve their game, which is only in its infancy compared to the sport in the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, over at the Hall of Fame, 2009 inductee Jennifer Azzi, a former Stanford-Olympic-WNBA-ABL star noted in her remarks how she is about moving forward and not looking back. However, having grown up in nearby Oak Ridge -- yes, that Oak Ridge that's the home of the atom bomb -- Azzi said her return to her roots made her realize how connected everything is and how important the game is to international understanding.
The Guru will have more of that weekend in a few days. On Sunday, the Guru attended the Honda Inspiration Awards dinner in New York where Drexel's Nicole Hester was honored for winning fight against Hodgkins Lymphoma. Posts above this one should have more detail on those activities.
That brings us to the Staley foundation event, which is always a highlight. The fact that it was held again here demonstrates that her work continues in her home city even though she is now a year removed from Temple having completed her first season at South Carolina.
Staley's work with the foundation, which she established after winning her first Olympic gold medal in 1996, has resulted in the WNBA naming an award after her for similart efforts, which recently went to former Connecticut Sun star Tamika Raymond, who was a member of several NCAA champions at UConn.
Although Staley has been lauded over the years for her playing career at Dobbins Tech, the University of Virginia, in the Olympics and in the pros, it is her work with youngsters at-risk who have come to the foundation's after-school program that gives her the most passion.
In past years, the black tie gala honored persons in the community from different business and entertainment fields for their work in the community.
This time, the foundation turned to its own and it was impressive in citing five products of the program who came off the city streets and by all accounts are on their way to successful careers.
The printed program gave profiles of five winners under the title: Women Who Beat the Odds.
Alexis Felder, who was a participant from 1999-2005 is a graduate of Germantown High who will be a senior at Saint Augustine College in Raleigh, N.C., majoring in sports management. After graduation, she plans to attend Georgia State Law School, seeking to become an agent. But she also would like to create a program that helps young girls in Pennsylvania and gives them a safe residential haven.
Avis Wilson joined the Navy in 2008 and is one of six females in the nationally recognized ceremonial guard. She is currently enrolled at the American Military Institute for legal studies. She would like to become a criminal defense attorney.
Christina Johnson graduated this year from Chowan University in North Carolina with a degree in biology with a track in environmental studies. She has been on the dean's list for five semesters.
Karin Wallace is a 2005 graduate of Simon Gratz high and is now majoring in public health at Temple. She hopes to begin her own program, focused on adolescents. she is a mother, a student, and an Emergency Medical Technication.
Shaquita Grier graduated from Edward Bok in 2008 and just finished her first year at Chestnut Hill College with grade-point-average of 3.4. She is majoring in forensic science. She has been a summer intern in the engineering department of PECO, working on projects to identify faulty wiring in electrical stations throughout Pennsylvania.
Although the Guru condensed the biographies here due to the late hour of the night this is being written, here is something not shortened.
Angie Nelson, who is the hands-on day-to-day head of the foundaton, graciously provided the Guru with a copy of the acceptance speech, which Alexis Felder made on behalf of all of the winners. It speaks for itself, and thus, the Guru will sign off this post, leaving you to read the speech in its entirety: